During our first night of our vacation, we had made it to Nashville and were staying at the Hilton hotel in south suburban Brentwood. Cindy had wondered why we weren't going to stay downtown. When we got into Nashville I took her up and down Broadway, the entertainment and tourist area of Nashville. The street was crawling with people on the sidewalks, going in and out of many of the Country and Western clubs that cater to tourists and parties. She said, "I had no idea Nashville was like this! It's sort of like Las Vegas only without gambling!" (Well, fortunately it's only one small section of Nashville that is like this.)
When we got checked into the Hilton in Brentwood, I asked the young lady at the front desk if they had a list of restaurants in the area. She pulled out a sheet and there had to be dozens listed. Somewhat exasperated, I asked her what her favorite restaurant was in the area. She immediately told me The Local Taco. When I asked if they had good margaritas, she said, "They have GREAT margaritas! In fact, I was just there last night with a friend." It was less than two minutes away from the hotel and when I proposed going there with Cindy, she eagerly accepted.
The Local Taco is unique for a Mexican restaurant. Actually, it's more of a Mexican "farm-to-fork" restaurant - the first of its kind that I've encountered ever since the fresh and locally grown restaurant craze came into play a few years ago.
I also found out that Local Taco is a local chain based out of Nashville. Managing owner John Ko - who was in commercial real estate - partnered with Jay Pennington in 2009 to open the first Local Taco location in the Sylvan Park area of Nashville. Pennington had restaurant experience previously owning South Street, Bound'ry and a handful of other Nashville eateries. He was responsible for the creation of many of the food items on the menu, as well as designing the restaurants for The Local Taco. A third owner - Michael Sloane - also had restaurant experience, but on a much larger scale. Sloane has owned over 70 restaurants throughout the Southeast - primarily Papa John's franchises. Sloane was the one who put up the initial cash for Ko and Pennington and lent his expertise in branding the Local Taco concept.
After opening their first location in the late spring of 2009, The Local Taco garnered "Best New Restaurant" in a local "Best of Nashville" survey. They opened their second location in south suburban Brentwood in 2010 making that location their flagship restaurant. Ko and Pennington then opened restaurants in Lexington, KY, Greenville, SC, and added their fifth location in Asheville, NC last summer. They're looking to open their sixth location - and third in Nashville - sometime next month.
The Brentwood location is located on Pewitt Drive, a small street off E. Church in Brentwood, south of Old Hickory Blvd. (see map) It was around 8 p.m when we got into the place. We immediately saw a chalkboard on the wall above the hostess station listing the local farms that supplied produce to The Local Taco. A bar was on the left as we came in and the main dining room was on the right.
We were met by a guy who came out from behind the bar asking us if we wanted to sit in the bar area or in the main dining room. Cindy took the lead and asked to be seated in the dining room. He took us a table near the back corner of the dining room. He dropped off a couple menus for us and said our server would be with us in a moment.
The main dining room had garage doors that opened to an outdoor seating area when the weather was nicer. The temperatures were unseasonably cool when we were in Nashville and the doors were closed that evening. The room had a nice contemporary and vibrant feel.
Not long after we were seated, our server - a young woman by the name of Bailie - came over to greet us. They had a well over two dozen tequilas on their drink menu that you could choose either straight up or for on-the-rocks margaritas mixed with hand-pressed lime juice, organic agave nectar and Patron Citronge orange liqueur. I ordered a Corzo margarita on the rocks, Cindy got one with Herradura tequila.
We also ordered some chips - which appeared to be free - but the salsa was not. Bailie asked if we wanted the roja salsa and we said, "Sure!" It wasn't until we dug a little deeper into the menu that we found out that we could have ordered three of the four salsas they had for a cost of $5.50 instead of $2.00 for one choice. When she came back with the chips and salsa, I told her that we weren't familiar with the drill at The Local Taco and wondered if we could get some pico de gallo and some of the salsa verde to go along with the salsa roja we got. She said it wouldn't be a problem.
The chips were fresh and a little warm as they were served to us. The salsa roja was all right, but the salsa verde had a nice little spicy kick to it. Interestingly, the pico de gallo was rather lifeless. The onions and cilantro seemed to be bland in taste.
The margaritas were wonderful, however. After a long day of driving, my first one went down pretty smooth. When Bailie came back to take our order for food, I was ready to have another.
Tacos, fajitas and enchiladas were the primary food on the menu. They had a dozen different types of eclectic tacos to choose from. They had a Buffalo Chicken taco with Southern fried chicken, Buffalo hot sauce, bleu cheese, pickled celery, lettuce and tomato. The spicy shrimp featured deep fried buttermilk soaked shrimp topped with jalapeno cole slaw and a spicy remoulade. And, as a nod to John Ko's Korean heritage, they a Korean BBQ taco made with Korean sesame-seared short beef rib with Asian slaw, toasted sesame seeds and chopped green onions.
I was interested in three different tacos - the smoked salmon taco featured in-house alder smoked salmon topped with a horseradish crema, pickled onions, cilantro, chopped cucumber, and capers; the smoked brisket had a mole rojo with pickled onions and cilantro; and the steak taco that featured a chile spice rubbed Black Angus steak with the horseradish crema and pico de gallo. I could get a plate with three tacos and a side. For my side, I got the Mexican tater-tots. (They had slices of jalapenos in them with some Mexican seasonings.)
Cindy ordered two tacos ala carte - the fish taco that featured a lightly fried haddock with a tarragon tartar sauce, with pickled jalapenos and shredded lettuce; and the brisket taco. We both asked for corn tortillas instead of a locally source flour taco shell.
It didn't take long to get the tacos to the table. My tacos were circled around a small bowl of the Mexican tater tots that were topped with a sort of cumin-sour cream drizzle. The tacos were chock full of ingredients and smelled wonderful. In the picture on the left going clockwise, the smoked salmon taco is at the 12 o'clock position, the steak taco is at 4 o'clock and the brisket taco is at 8 o'clock. (As always, click on the picture to get a larger view.)
The first thing I tried were the Mexican tater tots. They were a little over done for me, but had a hint of spicy jalapeno in the bite. The cumin-based sauce they put on top of the tater tots was all right, but there were only six or seven of them in the small bowl. It wasn't much of a side. Cindy tried one and she said, "Eh! They're all right." And she was right.
But that's OK - I was much more interested in the tacos. I took a bite of the brisket taco and found the meat to be more like a shredded beef. But it was tender and juicy, the pickled onions were prevalent, but not so much the mole rojo sauce or cilantro.
I then went with the smoked salmon. Now, THIS is what I'm talking about. This was a taste explosion in my mouth. The smoked salmon was a tad fishy, but still had a nice smoked taste to the fish. But the combination of the creamy horseradish sauce, capers and chopped cucumbers gave it an exquisite taste. I sort of wished I had gotten three of these instead.
The steak taco that I had after I finished the smoked salmon was anticlimactic. Actually, the steak was a little tough and the pico de gallo was just as weak as the stuff they served us to dip our chips into. The steak taco was disappointing, but after having the smoked salmon taco not much could have surpassed that.
We normally don't get fried fish tacos and I was somewhat surprised that Cindy didn't opt for the smoked salmon over the fried haddock. But she said that it was very good. She said the breading was light and not overpowering. The tarragon tartar sauce went well with the fish. She also liked the brisket taco, though not as much as the fish taco.
The tacos were small and we made quick work of what we had on our plate. I was raving about the smoked salmon taco so much that Cindy wanted to get one for herself. When Bailie came back to check on us, I told her that we both wanted a smoked salmon taco.
After she brought them to us and dug in, Cindy said she didn't care for the smoked salmon as much as the fried haddock taco. In fact, she ranked her tacos from best to worst as the fried haddock, brisket and smoked salmon. I was the opposite - I thought the smoked salmon was the best, followed by the brisket and the steak taco pulling up in last. The steak taco was highly disappointing.
Curiously, as we were eating our smoked salmon tacos, Bailie brought over our check and placed it on the table. "I'll take that for you whenever you're ready," she said.
My wife was sort of incredulous. "I guess we're done," she said in mock anger. "I was thinking about getting another margarita!" When I told her that we could at the bar, she said, "No, one is enough for me."
The Local Taco was, well, good. I liked the concept very much and their execution of the concept was fine. The food was interesting, but the tacos ranged from very good to not so good. The Local Taco is not your typical Mexican restaurant - either American-ized or truly authentic Mexican. If you're looking for Mexican food with a fresh twist, The Local Taco would be worth a try if you get to Nashville.